What Intelligence Tests Miss

These are my notes for:

What Intelligence Tests Miss:  The Psychology of Rational Thought
by Keith E. Stanovich

This book is profoundly important as it highlights a crucial deficit in the American awareness of its own cognitive health.  I found this book in a deliberate search for answers to the question of why so many people are irrational in their beliefs and behaviors.  To my own surprise and delight, the book challenged my own irrationality, exposing it on a number of test problems that I answered incorrectly.

As you read the notes below, it is important to understand that the author defines rational thinking as thinking that jibes with reality.  For example, 2+2=5 is an irrational expression because it does not jibe with reality.  (2+2 actually equals 4.)  Similarly, if Jack took a notion to become a child actress, this would be an irrational notion since Jack can neither become a child nor a female in reality.

A recurring theme throughout the book is that of the “cognitive miser”, the person who refuses to “spend” any more cognitive energy than he is forced to expend.  Stanovich argues that we all tend to be cognitive misers.  I would have argued with him on this point before reading the book, because I can directly observe that I spend a great deal more time thinking about things than do most.  But even so, his test questions proved that I also tend to jump off the cognitive train too early at times, taking an easier answer when a harder answer was necessary to match with reality.  So even though I came to this book in search of information, I was taken to school by the book—and that’s very exciting to me.

Interesting Quotations

  • “The skills of judgment and decision making are cognitive skills that are the foundation of rational thought and action, and they are missing from IQ tests.” (p. xii)
  • “The mistake they make is assuming that all intellectual deficiencies are reflected in a lower IQ score.” (p. 2)
  • “I define dysrationalia as the inability to think and behave rationally despite having adequate intelligence.” (p. 2)
  • “Although most people would say that the ability to think rationally is a clear sign of a superior intellect, standard IQ tests devote no section to rational thinking as cognitive scientists would define the term.”  (p. 2)
  • “It is ludicrous for society to be so fixated on assessing intelligence and to virtually ignore rationality when it is easy to show that the societal consequences of irrational thinking are profound.   And yet, oddly enough, I have discovered that there is enormous resistance to the idea of giving full value to mental abilities other than intelligence.” (p. 3-4)
  • MAMBIT stands for “mental abilities measured by IQ tests”. (p. 13)
  • “Virtually all pepole want their beliefs to be in some correspondence with reality, and they also want to act to maximize the achievement of their goals.” (p. 16)
  • “Most psychologists realize that IQ tests do not encompass all of the important mental faculties.  Most educators also would know this if asked explicitly.  Yet despite this, I still contend that most of the time most people forget this fact. In short, I think that IQ tests do fool most of the people most of the time—including psychologists who should know better.”  (p. 18)
  • “…we know that intelligence [MAMBIT] is roughly 50 percent heritable (due to genetics) and roughly 50 percent determined by a host of environmental factors.” (p. 20)
  • “…intelligence tests assess only those aspects of cognitive functioning on which people tend to show large differences. What this means is that intelligence tests will not routinely assess all aspects of cognitive functioning.”  (p. 27)
  • Stanovich proposes (and I find compelling) a tripartite model of the mind:
    • 1. Autonomous Mind: memory, riding a bike, emotions, and other Type 1 processes.  (People don’t tend to show large differences in these functions.)
    • 2. Algorithmic Mind: conscious problem solving, simulation, decoupling, hypothetical thinking, and other Type 2 processes.  This is computationally taxing and is what the cognitive miser seeks to avoid.  (IQ tests measure the efficiency of the algorithmic mind, and people tend to differ from each other considerably in these functions. p. 27)
    • 3. Reflective Mind: compares the results of algorithmic processes to reality.  Tells the algorithmic mind when it is done processing things, or whether to keep working on a problem.  This is where character lives.  If the first two minds are the automobile, the reflective mind is the driver.  IQ tests do not measure this.
  • “It is only at the level of the reflective mind that issues of rationality come into play.  Importantly, the algorithmic mind can be evaluated in terms of efficiency but not rationality.  This concern for the efficiency of information processing as opposed to its rationality is mirrored in the status of intelligence tests.” (p. 30)
  • On thinking dispositions that related to the reflective mind, Stanovich mentions:  “the tendency to collect information before making up one’s mind, the tendency to seek various points of view before coming to a conclusion, the disposition to think extensively about a problem before responding, the tendency to calibrate the degree of strength of one’s opinion to the degree of evidence available, the tendency to think about future consequences before taking action, the tendency to explicitly weight pluses and minuses of situations before making a decision, and the tendency to seek nuance and avoid absolutism.” (p. 31-32)
  • (emphasis added)  “Many different studies involving thousands of subjects have indicated that measures of intelligence display only moderate to weak correlations (usually less than .30) with some thinking dispositions (for example, actively open-minded thinking, need for cognition) and near zero correlations with others (such as conscientiousness, curiosity, and diligence).” (p. 35)  This is awesome news because it means that a society can adopt these traits across the board, with even people of lower IQ being able to follow along.
  • “…an important aspect of epistemic rationality is the ability to calibrate evidence appropriately to belief.  One rule of such calibration is that ambiguous evidence should lead to tentative belief.  People often violate this stricture, particular when myside bias is operating.  Research has found that the tendency to follow this stricture is more strongly related to two thinking dispositions—the tendency to believe in certain (emphasis added) knowledge and the need for cognition—than it is to intelligence [MAMBIT].” (p. 36)  I note that in this one passage lies the FUNDAMENTAL problem of our society.
  • [People are] “..overly influenced by vivid but unrepresentative personal and testimonial evidence and are under-influenced by more representative and diagnostic statistical evidence.” (p. 36)  Kids are conditioned this way, by the way, by their sing-songy teachers who try to make the classroom vivid to keep the kids attention and who do not learn to engage the kids by the reflective mind.
  • “A longitudinal analysis showed that self discipline was a better predictor of the changes in grade point average across the school year than was intelligence [MAMBIT].” (p. 37)
  • Regarding performance on rationality-testing problems, he says people tend to do better on tests when those tests prompt them to be unbiased and rational.  (p. 38).  People of higher IQ tend to do this a little better, yet all can do it. “More intelligent people appear to reason better only when you tell them in advance what good thinking is!” This shows that there is nothing germane to MAMBIT that prompts the person to think or behave rationally.  This drive comes from someplace else, I believe: the character, which is a reflection of the long-term state of the reflective mind.
  • “The term mindware was coined by Harvard cognitive scientist David Perkins to refer to the rules, knowledge, procedures, and strategies that a person can retrieve from memory in order to aid decision making and problem solving.”  (p. 40)  If these things can be memorized, then one can train himself with mindware particularly suited for rational thinking and can then call upon that training (memory) as needed to solve problems in keeping with reality.
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